The Awakened Ones

The Awakened Ones: Phenomenology of Visionary Experience

Gananath Obeyesekere
Copyright Date: 2012
Pages: 644
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    The Awakened Ones
    Book Description:

    While a rational consciousness grasps many truths, Gananath Obeyesekere believes an even richer knowledge is possible through a bold confrontation with the stuff of visions and dreams. Spanning both Buddhist and European forms of visionary experience, he fearlessly pursues the symbolic, nonrational depths of such phenomena, reawakening the intuitive, creative impulses that power greater understanding.

    Throughout his career, Obeyesekere has combined psychoanalysis and anthropology to illuminate the relationship between personal symbolism and religious experience. In this book, he begins with Buddha's visionary trances wherein, over the course of four hours, he witnesses hundreds of thousands of his past births and eons of world evolution, renewal, and disappearance. He then connects this fracturing of empirical and visionary time to the realm of space, considering the experience of a female Christian penitent, who stares devotedly at a tiny crucifix only to see the space around it expand to mirror Christ's suffering. Obeyesekere follows the unconscious motivations underlying rapture, the fantastical consumption of Christ's body and blood, and body mutilation and levitation, bridging medieval Catholicism and the movements of early modern thought as reflected in William Blake's artistic visions and poetic dreams. He develops the term "dream-ego" through a discussion of visionary journeys, Carl Jung's and Sigmund Freud's scientific dreaming, and the cosmic and erotic dream-visions of New Age virtuosos, and he defines the parameters of a visionary mode of knowledge that provides a more elastic understanding of truth. A career-culminating work, this volume translates the epistemology of Hindu and Buddhist thinkers for western audiences while revitalizing western philosophical and scientific inquiry.

    eISBN: 978-0-231-52730-9
    Subjects: Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-x)
    (pp. xi-xviii)
    (pp. xix-xxii)
    (pp. 1-18)

    In this introduction I want to give the reader a glimpse of what I aim to do in this work and a sense of the epistemological and psychological assumptions that underlie it. My “essay” is enormously long, in the old style, such as that of John Locke’s An Essay on Human Understanding. And I might say, albeit with a shrug, mine also is a piece of “human understanding,” but one that refuses to be tied down to any epistemology of empiricism. The task that I attack here is the “visionary experience,” not in its metaphoric sense but literally referring to...

  6. Book 1 THE VISIONARY EXPERIENCE: Theoretical Understandings
    (pp. 19-74)

    I hope my reader will not be too surprised if I begin my discussion of the Buddha’s spiritual awakening with an epigraph from a late-nineteenthcentury Jesuit poet and priest. Here as elsewhere in this essay I blur the distinction between religions insofar as the visionary experience is concerned. Gerard Manley Hopkins, in his “terrible sonnets,” powerfully evoked the dark night of the soul and the unfathomed depths of the mind that, even as he was writing, were being formulated by his scientific contemporaries, especially in Paris, as the “subconscious,” in the more prosaic language of the psychological sciences of their...

  7. Book 2 MAHĀYĀNA: Salvific Emptiness, Fullness of Vision
    (pp. 75-126)

    In my discussion of the Buddha’s awakening, I dealt with one of the early traditions of Buddhism, the Theravāda or “the doctrine of the elders.” The “elders” were among the first disciples of the Buddha who, it is said, committed the texts to memory. These texts were apparently first written down in the first century BCE in Sri Lanka, although the canon was not formalized until several centuries later.² The Theravāda Buddhist spiritual quest was a-theistic; not only was there no God in the doctrine, but its discourses were formulated against the immediate background of the Upaniṣads and prior to...

  8. Book 3 THE COSMIC “IT”: The Abstract Being of the Intellectuals
    (pp. 127-168)

    In my discussion of Mahāyāna Buddhism, I pointed out that the Buddhist doctrine of emptiness, in its very abstractness, shares that feature with many of the world’s great religions and with forms of the Absolute participating in a form of “secular spirituality.” That God exists “only philosophically,” attributed to Spinoza, expresses a larger truth of the world in the religious and secular traditions, wherein philosophers posit an abstract entity or Absolute or Being that exist outside the phenomenal world of becoming. However, while the God of Spinoza’s skeptical philosophy is based on the science and mathematics of his time, such...

  9. Book 4 PENITENTIAL ECSTASY: The Dark Night of the Soul
    (pp. 169-242)

    One of the issues I raised in my discussions of Tibetan treasure seekers is that, while their visionary trajectories were constrained by their complex cosmological presuppositions, their form of Buddhism did provide scope for innovative knowledge. Although framed in terms of recovery of lost Buddha words rather than new knowledge, in reality treasure discoverers were inventing new texts, though based on existing ones. Further, the flexibility of their Mahāyāna Buddhism was such that they could journey into unfamiliar cosmic realms, and to known or little-known geographic regions, to interpret in retrospect unusual visions, like that of the wolf rider and...

  10. Book 5 CHRISTIAN DISSENT: The Protest Against Reason
    (pp. 243-324)

    In book 4 I have dealt with the rich visionary traditions in medieval Christianity. The rest of this essay leaps over a couple of centuries to consider those who lived and worked under the shadow of the Enlightenment. This hinge discourse builds a rough bridge between the visions of Catholic penitents and those who experienced visions in the height of the age of reason, beginning with Blake and ending with new age visionaries. We now know that it is a mistake to think that Enlightenment and scientific reason simply supplanted the prior tradition of visionary thought, even in those countries...

  11. Book 6 THEOSOPHIES: West Meets East
    (pp. 325-362)

    While the antinomian movements in England were central to our understanding of Blake, one may ask how influential they were for Blavatsky, who was born and raised in Russia in the Orthodox Church. The late nineteenth century did not make it easy to be an antirationalist as Blake was. It was not only the impact of science that began to erode the field of visionary religion but also a galaxy of philosophers and thinkers who questioned the intellectual legitimacy of the Christian faith. This was the era of Herbert Spencer and John Stuart Mill, of Auguste Comte and Ernest Renan,...

    (pp. 363-440)

    In the preceding discussions we have dealt with those visionaries who pitted themselves against Enlightenment rationality, or Reason, as many of them labeled it. Although the eighteenth century was the “age of reason,” there were some like Blake who out-and-out opposed it, as did the antinomian sects that preceded him. The term Enlightenment was a late arrival in Europe and did not reach England until the nineteenth century, although the ideal of scientific and experimental rationality was firmly established by the end of the seventeenth century. And in the Enlightenment’s heyday, in the nineteenth century, there was Blavatsky, who represented...

  13. Book 8 CONTEMPORARY DREAMING: Secular Spirituality and Revelatory Truth
    (pp. 441-472)

    To me lucid dreaming is the most interesting of the contemporary Euro-American obsessions with dreams, providing a kind of escape from the world of everyday reality into the dream realm. Several lucid dreamers experience what one might reasonably label dream-visions that provide insights into a transcendental reality, not based on any known religion but rather on an intuitive personal insight into such an imagined reality. In that sense they constitute another form of “secular spirituality” for those who have been disenchanted with traditional religion.

    What is meant by lucid dreaming? The French dream theorist Michel Jouvet puts it thus: “A...

  14. ENVOI—INTIMATIONS OF MORTALITY: The Ethnographer’s Dream and the Return of the Vultures
    (pp. 473-476)

    I wrote this envoi with the hope that it would ease the burden of having written a long work. But, as with joys that happen to us, burdens never cease until the clock that keeps ticking away the passage of time within our frail bodies comes to a stop. Yet had I been living in another world or another time and place I might have used another epigraph for this ending. Or, for that matter, if I believed that nothingness can mean something else, as our negative theologians and Buddhist thinkers have formulated, giving that nothingness a transcendent reality. For...

  15. NOTES
    (pp. 477-596)
    (pp. 597-600)
  17. INDEX
    (pp. 601-622)